Logistics, Technology, and Culture

In planning a virtual exchange, you may come across some of these situations. Here are ideas for how to address them:

Logistical Considerations

  • Semester schedules might not align exactly with international partners, and holidays might be different. Be sure to verify with your partner. You might need to limit your project to a few overlapping weeks instead of the full semester.

image of virtual meeting room with poster of snowman and snow angel


  •  If your class times do not align, you might consider few (none or one) synchronous class meetings that ask students to attend at a different time. Other ideas are video introductions (on Padlet or Google Drive, see Technological Considerations below) or pair/group meetings where students only need to schedule with a few partners.


  • Class sizes might be different. In this case, it’s recommended to work in groups of at least 3 but up to 5 and include two students from one country and one from another. In fact, this type of group instead of pairs often solves issues of attendance or people dropping out.


  • Grading/assessment might be difficult in group projects with international partners. Plan the grading ahead of time and make expectations clear for students.

Technological Considerations

  • Learning Management Systems will probably differ from the international partner and have limitations of adding students from other schools. For example, Harper Blackboard cannot accommodate adding students from international institutions. Plan ahead for different types of platforms. This list is not comprehensive:
    • o Google drive folder to share documents, videos, and presentations (google.com )
    • o Padlet to post videos or create shared boards (padlet.com)
    • o FlipGrid to share videos (flipgrid.com)


  • Online meeting options – Plan for an online meeting option that works for both partners and test it ahead of time. At Harper, some faculty use Blackboard Collaborate; this is possible if you use settings to create a link to be accessible to those outside your course. WebEx is also free and accessible, but many international partners haven’t used it. Harper may have a Zoom license that you can use to get meetings for longer than 40 minutes (free version has this time limit); contact the Office of International Education for details. It’s also possible that your partner may have a Zoom license or prefer Google Meet, which is also free and accessible. Microsoft Teams seems to present the most challenges.


  • WhatsApp – This free app widely used around the world for texting. It is easy and free to create an account but it is connected to your cell phone number. In many countries, this is the typical way for classmates to communicate; teachers and students also use it in place of or in addition to email. Many people in the US do not have or use this app. Be sure to communicate with your partner about whether you feel comfortable using WhatsApp to talk to him/her and whether you think students will use it. Be aware that not using it may be a cultural difference especially with partners in Latin America.


Cultural learning and exchange are some of the greatest benefits of virtual exchange. Faculty as well as students can learn a lot about both visible culture (holidays, clothing,

image of a virtual meeting room with poster describing lunar new year holiday

food, and other traditions) and invisible culture (values and communication styles, among others). It is impossible to summarize all potential cultural considerations that may affect your project, but here are a few to keep in mind.

  • Indirect and direct communication – While individual communication styles can vary, there may be differences between indirect and direct communication styles for international faculty and student partners. The idea of high context and low context cultures may be interesting for further reading. An example of a challenge posed with communication styles involves a trinational welding program. The three classes had planned to do a specific weld with specific materials; with very short notice, one group announced that they were not able to obtain one of the materials needed. As they scrambled to revise the project, the other two partners were surprised and felt like this news came out of nowhere. The other partner, however, had been trying to convey their doubt about their ability to get the material for weeks. They had said, “We don’t usually work with that material.” For the other partners, this was just an interesting point of conversation, not a sign that they would not be able to get the material. Overall, for partners in the US, it may be necessary to tune in more closely to the indirect messages from our partner.


  • Schedules – Time and perceptions of lateness are perennial cultural differences; it may help to find out more about this from the faculty partner before starting group projects.


  • Drop-outs – While in the US, it is not uncommon for students to disappear from class without notice, in other countries, this is a big shock. A Mexican faculty member was amazed when this happened that her counterpart did not even know what had happened to the student: “They didn’t even say goodbye????” To prevent problems with drop-outs, it might be better to make groups of 4-5 students instead of pairs.


  • Privacy – Privacy is a very high value in the US, with personal information, especially telephone numbers, not shared freely. This may be another cultural difference as in some countries, it is more expected for students to have their instructor’s personal contact information, social media and other information. Establish what information if any you are comfortable sharing.


A Guide to Virtual Exchange Copyright © by Kathleen Reynolds. All Rights Reserved.

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